CAF's Togo Ban: Issa Hayatou, you got it wrong

by Kola Alapinni

On the 8th of January 2010 the Togolese national team – The Hawks – set out for Cabinda, Angola from the Congo to commence their campaign in the African Cup of Nations. A brief domestic risk assessment of this strategy would show that it is fraught with danger. And it has proved to be a serious error of judgment.

The Cabinda region is almost totally engulfed by the two Congos on its northern, eastern and southern borders. It has the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The Congo had been particularly strife-ridden since the twilight days of the late Mobutu Sese-Seko. By the time Laurent Desire Kabila (Kabila Snr) was head of state, six separate armed conflict was on-going in the Congo. Congolese rebels were challenging Kabila Snr (they are still challenging his son Kabila Jnr); Rwanda had pushed the Interhamwe rebels deep into DRC territory and fighting was reported frequently; Uganda was fighting her rebels in the Congo; Sudan was doing the same; Burundian authorities and FFD rebels, Congo-Brazzaville and forces loyal to their deposed former President Lissouba; and between the Angolan government and UNITA rebels. This conflict became known as Africa’s Seven-Nation War. At some point in time even Namibia and Zimbabwe as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had troops stationed in the Congo. The Cabinda region has been – to put it lightly – unstable for three decades. The area could be likened to the Niger-Delta area of Nigeria. It is oil-rich but poverty stricken. Reportedly more than half of Angola’s oil reserves are situated in the Cabina region and disgruntled separatist movements believe that the central government in Angola takes too much of it’s revenue. In the last decade hostilities have heightened in the Cabinda region with the emergence of the Renewed Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC-RENOVADA) One of its modus operandi is to target foreigners to try to gain international attention and news coverage for its movement to gain independence from Angola. Though there appeared to have been some sort of peace pact between Angola and FLEC, it appears not all within the separatist group has been carried along. It was this splinter group that ‘machine-gunned the team like dogs’ according to Togolese striker Thomas Dossevi.

I have set this background so that we can get a brief glimpse into the international power play and geo-politics that existed and still exists to certain degrees in that theatre of conflict. This ban by CAF headed by the Cameroun’s Issa Hayatou has now brought up a series of serious wide ranging issues that goes beyond slapping Togo on the wristor the face, depending on which side of the fence you are.

To begin with the Togolese authorities need to ask the following questions:

1. Who was responsible for the bus trip?

The Vice President of the Togolese Football Federation Gabriel Ameyi told the Associated Press (AP) ‘They should not have travelled by road. They did not tell CAF that they were travelling by road. They should have flown to Angola.’ It does seem to me that there was a breakdown in the chain of command when the No. 2 man of a nation’s football body does not know the itinerary of his boys.

2. Why were the Togolese authorities not informed of the bus trip?

3. Why were the Angolan authorities and CAF not informed when a change of plans became imminent?

4. What measures were taken to ensure that an adequate security plan was in place before the team ventured into enemy territory?

There was a reason for the team to fly into Angola and not drive. The reason simply is that the team would have bypassed ground risk which caused this kind of fatalities. Also Angola had been locked in a deadly civil war since the late 70s that only lulled when the rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was ambushed and killed. One of the legacies of that war is that Angola remains one of the most landmined country in the world! Some experts say between 500, 000 and one million remains buried under Angolan soil. Others say it may be up to six million. Everyday there are dozens of landmine victims in Angola many are women and children. There is a proverb of the Yoruba people of Western Africa and it literally translates: ‘The visitor has eyes, but he cannot see.’ There is no way the Togolese delegation or any foreigner could have known Angola more than the Angolan government. Local knowledge of the area is invaluable. I remember vividly a field trip to Rwanda in 2001, we were guests of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Kigali. We travelled the lenght and breadth of Rwanda viz; Kigali, Butare, Gitarama, Murambi (I can’t remember the other cities now) under UN escorts to visit the UN facilities, the Gacaca Commission, Gacaca Courts, the prisons, various genocide sites et cetera. Everyday we were briefed on the risk assesmentment indicator and I think a trip to Gisenyi a border town to the DRC had to be cancelled. One of the drivers told me on one occassion that the DRC was just about 60km away. That is what risk assesment is about and you must remember this was even seven years after the 1994 Genocide. Sometimes when the foreign clubs which pay the huge salaries of these players are scared to release them, the risk assesment plays a part. The clubs have a vested interest in protecting the huge investments they made on their players. God forbid, imagine if it was Emmanuel Adebayour that was hit? I think Manchester City’s lawyers would have gone for the jugular of both all parties involved namely the Togolese and Angolan authorities and most especially CAF. I think Issa Hayatou would have been battling with a negligence law suit right now. Not in hispersonal capacity of course, but as the corporate face of CAF.

Granted the Angolan authority might have wanted some of the games to be played in Cabinda. It is a political decision. It was meant to appease the disgruntled region and to make them feel a sense of belonging to the Republic of Angola. The Angolan government also realises the power of sports. Football is like opium, it gives you a high. It transports you away from reality especially if your team is doing well. When the freest and fairest elections widely believed to have been won by the late MKO Abiola was cancelled by the Nigerian military in 1993, the anniversary of this shameful act coincided with the World Cup campaign in the US in 1994 Nigerians conveniently forgot that their mandate had been stolen; forgot the fuel scarcity and the long queues at the petrol pumps due to oil workers strike; forgot the skyrocketing food prices; forgot that the universities were shut down due to lecturers strike action forgot; that Abiola had declared himself as President and gone into hiding. As soon as Roberto Baggio literarily kicked us out of the World Cup, The country woke up from its slumber and Nigeria burned. But everytime Nigeria burnt, but we won trophies like the Tunis Cup of Nations in 1994, the Olympics Soccer Gold in 1996 it was a soothing balm on the festering sore of the nation’s political wounds and the international sanctions levelled at the military junta of General Sanni Abacha. Ironically, Nigeria did well in the sporting world under him and he used this as a trump card in international politics.

Thus when CAF say politics should be kept away from football the reality cannot be more far from this. The power of sports in international politics cannot be underated. The hosting rights given to South Africa for 2010 is political. Germany robbed her of that glory in 2006 when Franz Beckenbauer of Germany ran a very effective lobbying campaing to persuade the Oceania delegate Charles Dempsey, who had initially backed England. He had been instructed to support South Africa following England’s elimination. He abstained, citing “intolerable pressure” on the eve of the vote. Had Dempsey voted as originally instructed, the vote would have resulted with a 12-12 tie and Sepp Blatter who favoured South Africa would have casted the decidng vote. I

rememember even the goodwill of President Mandela didn’t get the hosting rights for South Africa that year and he gave them a very strong worded piece of his mind. I can’t remember FIFA slapping a ban on SA because of that. Recently, the US President Barrack Obama had to appear in Copenhagen to lobby for his city of Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics. Brazil asked Pele to lead Rio De Janeiro’s campaign. I leave it to you to conclude whether we can separate power play and political intervention from sports? However, Hayatou should have told the Angolan authorities that Cabinda was not going to get the nod giving the political and security assesment of the region. I am sure the Angolans would have accepted that than to lose the hosting rights of the tournament. And that leads me to the more serious error of CAF’s policy making judgment.

Here is a team that was subjected to a 20 minute unprovoked machine gun fire resulting in the death of three people.The goalkeeper was seriously injured and had to be flown to South Africa for emergency surgery. We could all see the shocking pictures on television and the players were traumatised. There was indeed conflicting information coming out of the Togolese camp. That information could have been properly managed. At some point they wanted to play, some did not want to. Eventually the Togolese government came out with a position -Come home! That decision would not have been taken lightly. Some of your citizens are dead, one severely with a career threatening injury, the rest are traumatised, your nation is mourning, some parents will never see their children again, some children their fathers, some families their breadwinners. That incident almost automatically undermined the hosting of the World Cup in South Africa. The international community panicked and rightly so! South Africa had to bring out its PR machine to contain the situation. The sensible thing for CAF would have been to just kept quiet and pray that the incident blows away quietly or they could have come out with a more compassionate and humane disposition to Togo.

It seems to me that Hayatou wants to score a political point with the Togolese authorities here. It sends a message of: ‘I am in charge! How dare you try to scuttle my tournament. I will send you away for the next two tournaments, you will also pay me $50, 000 for daring to pull such a stunt’. ‘Nonsense, nonsense upon stilts’ apologies to Jeremy Bentham. I was taught Jurisprudence and Legal Theory at the premier University of Ibadan by the revered Professor Agbede and he posits that the notion ‘Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is wrong. Agbede submitted that ‘Power tends to corrupt,and absolutely power tends to corrupt absolutely’. He cited the great Nelson Mandela as the example of his theory and an exception to the rule. Mandela was wrongly jailed for 27 years, became the most powerful man his country, never took revenge on the white minority government and relinquished power after four years. Hayatou became President of CAF in 1988 and it is a shame that after being the helmsman of CAF for about 22 years the best he can come up with to deal with this situation is to apply the letters of the law without examining the spirit of the laws. The draghtsman did not have it in mind that when a country is the object of a terrorist attack; the nation’s morale low; families in tatters; and it says come home my children let us cut our losses and bury your fallen comrades you must ban them and slap them with fines. What the legal draughtsman had in mind is that governments should not use it’s power in hiring and firing Football Association officials or to use government machinery to rig and impose officials. The law is to ensure stability and independence but for the greater development of the sport! Hayatou has done the exact oposite in this case. Once again Africa brings under scrutiny the mentality of our leaders. This decision has made us the laughing stock of the world. What is wrong with Africa? Why must we always put ourselves in a position of mockery? The consequence of this ruling is that it will not stand on appeal, and the court of public opinion has condemned Hayatou. I think the honourable thing for him to do is to stand down as CAF President and allow room for fresh blood, fresh ideas for a more humane and compassionate CAF. Hayatou’s ridiculous decision is an indicator of why we are where we are in Africa today.

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